A coalition led by Iraq's Shiite prime minister emerged yesterday as the biggest winner in the country's first parliamentary elections since the US military withdrawal in 2011, electoral officials said.
The results boost Nouri al-Maliki's chances of a third term in office despite political turmoil and rising violence.
However, he still needs to approach other groups in order to secure a broader majority coalition inside parliament that will get the first crack at forming a government.
The parliamentary election was the third since the 2003 US-led invasion that removed dictator Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime and brought the long-oppressed Shiite majority to power.
It came at a perilous moment for Iraq, with the country sinking back into a brutal cycle of bloodshed that claimed more than 8,800 lives last year alone. The resurgence of sectarian violence, which nearly tore Iraq apart in 2006 and 2007, is being fuelled both by deep-seated divisions within Iraq and the three-year-old civil war taking place in neighbouring Syria.
More than 9,000 candidates from across Iraq vied for the parliament's 328 seats in the April 30 election. Electoral officials reported that 62 per cent of the 22 million eligible voters cast ballots - the same turnout as in the last parliamentary elections in 2010.
The results released yesterday by the Independent High Electoral Commission showed that Maliki's State of Law gained 92 seats, winning the top spot in 10 of 18 provinces. He would need to build support from a total of 165 seats to have a shot at keeping the prime minister's post.
Powerful Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim's al-Muwatin bloc was second with 29 seats, followed by firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's main al-Ahrar bloc with 28 seats. Two smaller parties of Sadrist supporters drew a combined six additional seats and would likely team up with al-Ahrar in a broader coalition.
Sunni parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi's Mutahidoun ended up with 23 seats, while former prime minister Dr Iyad Allawi Sunni-backed al-Wataniya list won 21 seats.
Negotiations to choose a new government will likely drag on for weeks, if not months.